Elder D. Todd Christofferson told an interfaith group in Brazil — a country recognized by the Pew Research Center as a global leader in religious liberty protections — that “religious freedom is the cornerstone of peace in a world with many competing philosophies.” This is because religious freedom “gives us all space to determine for ourselves what we think and believe — to follow the truth that God speaks to our hearts.”
Elder Christofferson, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, delivered his remarks in Portuguese Wednesday at Brazil Mosque during a first-of-its-kind Brazilian religious liberty event celebrating the nation’s strong support of religious freedom. He spoke about basic principles of religious freedom and the need for vigilance and cooperation to preserve it.
His audience was a diverse gathering, which included Muslims, Sikhs, Catholics, Adventists, Jews, Evangelicals, Latter-day Saints, native spiritualists, people of no faith and many others.
“This event is very important because it demonstrates that we are all brothers and sisters and that we celebrate the blessing of being free to follow the religion we choose,” said Elder Cláudio R. M. Costa of the Seventy, who serves as the Church’s Brazil Area president.
Religious Freedom’s Basics and Benefits
Full freedom is more than the “negative” freedom to be left alone, Elder Christofferson said. It’s also a “positive freedom” that allows a person to live his or her religion in a tolerant, respectful and accommodating environment. Furthermore, religious freedom allows people to establish their core convictions, “without which all other human rights would be meaningless.”
“How can we claim the freedom of speech without being able to say what we truly believe?” Elder Christofferson asked. “How can we claim the freedom of assembly unless we can gather with others who share our ideals? How can we enjoy freedom of the press unless we can publicly print or post who we really are?”
Elder Christofferson pointed to current and past progress made to bolster religious freedom, including the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which called for “everyone [to have] the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.”
This matters, Elder Christofferson said, because religious freedom and the practice of religion strengthen society. “In general, religious individuals have better family lives, stronger marriages, less substance abuse and crime, higher educational levels, a greater willingness to volunteer and donate to charities, better work habits, longer lives, better health, greater income and higher levels of well-being and happiness.”
The Need for Vigilance and Cooperation to Resist Threats to Religious Freedom
In spite of religious freedom’s economic, civic and public health benefits, sobering statistics from the Pew Research Center show that in 2013 some 5.5 billion people — 77 percent of the world’s population — lived in countries with high or very high restrictions on religious liberty, up from 68 percent just six years earlier.
Contrast this with Brazil, which according to the same Pew study has the world’s lowest government restrictions on religion.
“I congratulate Brazil for this significant distinction,” Elder Christofferson said. “I encourage you to hold fast to the freedoms you have forged at home and to lead courageously in promoting religious freedom on the world stage. The need to protect and preserve religious liberty — in a fair and balanced way that also protects others’ fundamental rights — is acute.”
Elder Christofferson concluded with a call for people of various beliefs to work together to protect religious freedom.
“May we pursue peace by working together to preserve and protect the freedom of all people to hold and manifest a religion or belief of their choice, whether individually or in community with others, at home or abroad, in public or private, and in worship, observance, practice and teaching.”